I've been working on my website this weekend, updating my portfolio to now display bigger images. I'm taking the opportunity to go through and cull a few older shots and add some of my latest work. When I came across this particular image, shot during a trip to Melbourne in February 2010, I paused for a while and wondered if I could get it looking a bit nicer. Time for a re-edit!
I met up with Scout and Nelle the Labrador Retrievers at a park near their house in Melbourne very early in the morning. So early, the sun hadn't actually risen yet and the whole place was shrouded in mist. The dogs loved racing around in the mist and had a fantastic time, but I had to wait until the light got a little brighter before shooting. Eventually, the sun came out and burned the mist away, and I had a small window where the conditions were almost magical - yellow light slanting across the fields, wisps of mist still lingering through the trees, a photographer's dream.
I shot a series of these shots of the dogs (finally starting to calm down a bit and work for treats) with a lot of backlight. This was shot with my original Canon 5D fitted with 24-70mm lens at 70mm, at f3.5, 1/200 sec and 250 ISO. The focus is on the dog lying down (Scout) and the shallow depth of field makes the rest of the image quite soft. Here's the original RAW file, completely original out of the camera, only slight cropping applied.
Pretty murky, flat and not very inspiring, right? The first time I edited this shot, I did a couple of things to try and give the image a bit more life. I increased the contrast (which helped with the murkiness) and also played with the white balance to get a bit more warmth into the image.
Not bad... a definite improvement. But when considering whether to keep this image in my portfolio today, there were a few things that bothered me about how I'd handled the editing of this shot.
The biggest thing is the lack of detail in the main area of highlight in the centre of the image. Even in the original there was more detail present - you could actually make out some tree branches hanging down and see more detail in the grass in the background.
There is also a lack of detail in the shadows - mainly in both dogs' fur and Scout's face. When zoomed in to 100%, I could see that Scout's face was sharply in focus, but due to the glare, remaining mist in the air, and murky shadows, I was definitely losing detail there too.
The colour also bothered me. Sure there was some nice golden sunlight streaming through, but the effect wasn't nearly as intense as it was in real life. See the grass in the foreground - how it's almost blue/green-ish in tone and definitely colder than the rest of the shot? This indicated to me that I could pump in a lot more warmth without making the image look wrong.
In the re-edited version, I focused on restoring detail back into the highlight and shadow areas and giving the shot the warmth and life it deserved.
With the help of some edge sharpening and better light management, you can now make out Scout's face more clearly and see a definite rim light around his nose, an aspect that was completely missing on the original edit. More detail in the big bright area in the centre allows better composition, making it an area of interest that complements the rest of the shot, rather than being a big void that took your attention.
The dogs' fur is another thing that has benefited from bringing out more detail through fill light. You can actually make out now that the dogs were wet from running around in the mist!
The finishing touches included tidying up the dirty grassy area on Nelle's back leg and removing the ugly coloured flare spots. The image still has flare, but it's not distracting now.
Again, this just highlights to me that I've certainly come a long way with my editing process over the last few years in particular. It also should serve as a lesson, that images like the one above certainly don't look like that in camera. When editing, I focus on trying to re-create not just the look, but the original mood of the shot. The warm sunlight, the last remaining shrouds of mist, the wet dogs and the beautiful hanging Willow trees in the background all combined to help resurrect real, actual memories of the day.
Which in effect, is what I aim to do for my clients. I don't just want to record appearances and events, I want to help jog those happy memories and feelings of sights and smells that might otherwise be forgotten.
I'll leave you with just one more shot from the day that I really love that I've also re-edited, applying similar techniques and style.
If you enjoyed this post and found it helpful, please leave me a message and let me know your thoughts. Feel free to share, too!
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